OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Common Council Chambers were filled to standing-room-only capacity Wednesday.
For about an hour, freshman U.S. Congressman John Katko responded to questions regarding economic development in Oswego County. For a time, he met one-on-one with some people following the session.
Katko said he was overwhelmed by the attendance. It shows that the community cares and that’s a really good thing, he said.
The event was moderated by Jeff Grimshaw, director of the Office of Business and Community Relations at SUNY Oswego. It included Zelko Kirincich, executive director of the Port of Oswego Authority; Pat Carroll, business manager at United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 73; Theresa Himes, owner of Bosco and Geers Food Market; and L. Michael Treadwell, executive director of Operation Oswego County, as panelists.
Katko thanked the large crowd “for taking part in this exercise in democracy.”
“Lake Ontario is a jewel. The port is a jewel; I think it’s under-utilized. I want to help with that. I want to help with the economic development here,” he said.
Economic development “is not exactly robust here,” he pointed out.
“We’ve got to change that,” he said. “It’s a tall order. But, I think that together we can. You have to have a ‘can do spirit.’ We want to get to the point where not just the parents live in Oswego and the kids live elsewhere. We want the kids to live here with their kids and their grand kids.”
That will only happen if there is economic opportunity, Katko said, adding that Oswego is a wonderful place to live and raise kids.
He said he’s excited about some of the things happening already.
He cited the Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to repair the breakwall and do more dredging. He also recognized expansion at places like the Port Authority and Novelis.
“You’ve got some bright spots. You have some good things here, but you need some more,” he said. “We are going to change things here. It starts by listening and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
To help facilitate that, he has opened a satellite office in City Hall.
One question asked about the workforce in the area.
Katko noted that there is a need for skilled workers and more emphasis should be placed on the trades. There is a lack of good skilled tradesmen, he said.
“A lot of kids may not want to go to college; it may not be their cup of tea. Even if they did go to college, the skilled trades are very important. Having vocational training I think is going to be a serious component to economic growth here,” he said.
The congressman also noted that historic sites and museums are potential economic development tools.
After taking a tour of Fort Ontario, he said he was overwhelmed by its history.
“It is an unbelievable jewel in our nation’s history. It also served as a camp for Holocaust survivors (Safe Haven),” he said. “My feeling – it should be a national park and preserved accordingly. It can only help business to have that fort be what it should be.”
There is no magic wand, the congressman admitted but he said he is hopeful that, with everyone working together, things can turn around in the area.
Because of the high taxes companies are being asked to come here “with one arm tied behind their back” and they’re still doing it, he said.
“Imagine where we could be if we leveled the playing field just a bit,” he said. “We have the best workforce in the world, I’m convinced of that. And if we can level the playing field a bit, towns like Fulton are going to come back. But before that we just got to make sure that the businesses that are there stay there; we have to give them incentives to do so.”
It is also important (for cities) to have fun places for kids and young adults to go and have a good time, he said, adding, “That’s what helps keep them here. Once they stay here for a little bit they begin settling in.”
“If you want families to stay together in Upstate New York, you have to have economic development for them. You can’t have kids paying on student loans that are double the rate of what it costs someone to get a 30-year mortgage on a home,” Katko continued. “That’s insane. Kids come in with so much debt; they want to stay here, but they have to go elsewhere to make money to pay their bills. And that’s not good. That’s something we need to address.”
Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen said he is looking forward to working with the congressman.
“He did a nice job and has some good ideas,” he said. “He’s correct; we all have to work together. We understand that we need some help from Washington. He’s willing to help us fight for that.”
Congressman Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne counties and a portion of Oswego County.
For more information, visit https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko